“10 Steps on the Journey Toward Abundant Living”
Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ October 4, 2020
I begin this morning with a bit of fear in my heart because I am aware that we are about to deal with a sensitive subject. If we were assembled in church, we would feel committed to stay, (generally most people don’t walk out of my services), we would stay and wrestle with the text and theme before us. Yet, we are not physically gathered in church during this time of virtual worship. We have gathered in the comfort and safety of our homes. My fear is that it is easy to just change the channel, or fast forward through to the end without wrestling with the challenging text before us. And that challenge before us is…rules. And, let’s be honest…we don’t like rules do we? As a child, we didn’t like hearing rules: don’t gobble your food down, don’t run in the house, don’t pick your nose. As a teen, we hate hearing: don’t stay up so late, don’t play your music so loudly, don’t spend so much time on your phone. Even as adults, we hold a distaste for the ‘don’ts’ we hear: don’t drive so fast, don’t eat so many fatty foods, don’t be so sedentary, and so on. Don’t…don’t…don’t. We have a distaste for the don’ts…don’t we?
So, as we come to a Sunday focusing on the ten commandments, of which the majority are written in the negative ~ the ‘don’t’ form, we seem to have a challenge before us. Now you might counter by referring to Jesus’ reference to Torah law and wonder if we might forgo this Sunday’s focus. Jesus speaks, in all three gospels about the 10 commandments synthesizing them as a command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (and he continues teaching). “The second is like unto it, you shall love your neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” And so, even for Jesus, who was rooted in Jewish law, the 10 commandments occupied a significant position of authority in guiding his life. So, I’m hoping that we will stick with it, for if this is this important to Jesus, well surely it is important to us as well!
So how do we approach this subject? Certainly, there are 10 sermons (and many more) that could be preached on this subject! And any attempt to summarize each of the 10 commandments into one reflection would be a grievous error. What I propose is that we look at them from the overall concept of law, of guidance, and of attaining abundant life. I propose we find in them the ten steps to abundant life. A little background to set up where we are may be helpful in this quest. We find ourselves now for the third week focusing on the book of Exodus. This book tells the first story of liberation of the Israelites. (there will, of course be later liberation stories: liberation from Babylon, Assyria, and others) So here is what has happened…Liberated by Moses from Egyptian slavery, they find themselves on their exodus ~ their leaving of Egypt. They are on their way towards the Promised Land that God was offering. Now in the wilderness, they march towards Israel for 40 years! Elders will die, children will be born, not even Moses will reach the Promised Land to which he leads them. It will be a long journey! As pilgrims, they take meagre supplies and soldier forward. When they were dying of hunger, as we heard in the story two weeks ago, God will instruct Moses how to find food. When they are dying of thirst, God will instruct Moses how to bring them drink. And in that progression, this morning’s text should be seen in line with God’s provision. God provided food; God provided water; and in this morning’s text, God provides guidance for the Israelites to have abundant life.
You see…in the past, life was overseen…it was provided for…by the Egyptians. While the Israelites were, indeed, slaves…they received a certain level of comfort. Many of the scriptures record the longings they had for the days in Egypt where they had food, where they had water, and a certain level of security. Now, certainly they were slaves, yet they did not fear for their existence…as long as Egyptian rules were followed. And so, there was a level of comfort in Egypt. As they moved into the wilderness, they moved from trusting in Pharaoh for their provisions to now trusting God. And God provided: God provided food; God provided water, and in this morning’s text, we consider God’s provision for that which makes for deep, abundant, glorious life! God teaches, through the 10 commandments, the way for deep, abundant, glorious life. The 10 steps to abundant life.
While we often look at rules as things which deter from our freedom and liberty, I think the 10 commandments are better viewed as being ones which truly bring them. As the Israelites have now left the established order of Egypt, God will not leave them alone to flounder in the wilderness. Leading them forth, God will provide them with food in their hunger, with water in their thirst, and with words that will guide them in the ways of abundant life. Perhaps a better description for the 10 commandments would be the 10 ways to freedom …the 10 chapters of a complete life…the 10 steps to abundant life.
I’ll be honest, I agree with you. I don’t like their presentation. Don’t do this…and don’t do that. A list of 10 don’ts is not very palatable. We all know the success that is achieved when people shout lists of don’ts to others. Success is limited, at best, in achieving the desired results. Perhaps Moses was having a bad day when he met God atop Mt. Sinai and misheard how God presented the 10 commandments? Certainly I joke…and I digress. But, in all seriousness, I wonder if we might be wise to consider how they might be more effectively written in the affirmative? Written in ways in which we might ‘live them out’…rather than having them restrict our actions. Take the first commandment for example “you shall have no other gods before me”. We have seen the detrimental effects that occur when we worship other gods first. When we make pleasure the god we worship; or success, or power, or materialism, or sex. When we love God with all our body, mind and soul, then everything falls into perspective. Conflicting things, then, do not have the power to entrap us and take our loyalty. Certainly, there is a place for material things, for pleasure, for success, for sex for all the others; yet when we place God first, all falls into place. We receive life in its richest abundance where God is the foundation.
I wonder how we might effectively receive Moses’ 10 commandments in the affirmative, rather than in the negative, in which we receive them? Could you re-write the 10 commandments in a positive way that would be 10 steps to abundant life? Let’s play…For the first, do not have other gods, perhaps the first step might be: God is the compass I follow. The second commandment pertaining to the fashioning of an idol might be: I identify falsehoods and give them no authority. The third one referring to the wrongful use of God’s name might be: rightfully honouring the power of words, names and language. The fourth one referring to the keeping of Sabbath might be: I will rest and reset my body, mind and soul regularly. The fifth one about the honoring parents might be: I will honour my chosen family. The sixth one admonishing murder might be: I will let other living beings live. The seventh one pertaining to adultery might be: I will honour the relationship contracts in which I have entered. The eighth one against theft might be: I will honour the property of others. The ninth one opposing false witness against a neighbour might be: I will uphold the truths as I have seen it. Finally, the tenth one about coveting your neighbour’s property might be: I will find my own joy and happiness.
People have been reflecting and pondering the 10 commandments since Moses received them. As people of faith, it is our duty to continue doing so as we focus on receiving the abundant life which God offers unto us through this path of faithful living. I wonder how you might phrase that they might pilot and guide your life? And before I charge you to come up with the phrasing of your own 10, I will close with the way Bernard of Clairvaux, a French abbot and leader in the Benedictine movement in the later part of 11th century. St. Bernard phrased the 10 commandments this way: “If you notice something evil in yourself, correct it; if something good, take care of it; if something beautiful, cherish it; if something sound preserve it; if something unhealthy, heal it. Do not weary of reading the commandments of the Lord, and you will be adequately instructed by them so as to know what to avoid and what to go after.”
During the Music for Reflection that comes next, I will invite you to think of how your would write the 10 commandments as positive guiding ways to live…to grow…to thrive…and to have life in all it’s abundance. May we wander through the wilderness walking in ways that bring abundant life, now and always.